Labour is losing women. It could cost the party the next election. It doesn’t have to be this way

by Nicole Lampert

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s reset: the path back to power” which Uncut will be launching at Labour conference next week. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election.

Labour is losing women. It is losing its female activists, its putative politicians, its core voters. And the trans debate could even see it lose the country at large. Again.

There’s a female MP, Rosie Duffield, who is too frightened to appear at Labour conference because so many trans rights activists – whipped up into a fury by people within the party – have threatened violence against her.

A long-awaited statement yesterday by Keir Starmer was the usual fence sitting – asserting the Party supports the Equality Act which legislates for single sex spaces but adding that trans people should mainly be allowed in them – while also reasserting plans for self-identification. They leadership must have hoped that this would dampen down the row but, in fact, it served to only add fuel to the fire. Did they learn nothing from the Brexit fudge which managed to infuriate both sides and lost them votes from Brexiters and Remainers?

Women’s rights are being removed all over the world; in the last few weeks we’ve seen it from America to Afghanistan. And that is why women will not take this lying down, even from a party that they have always supported.

Sara, whose parents and grandparents were Labour councillors, and has campaigned on doorsteps for the party since she was a child, calls it: ‘The toxic nail in the coffin of my support for Labour. I cannot support Labour because of this.’

Joan, who with her partner made up the only gay couple in her CLP, says: ‘When I asked for help from our Labour candidate in keeping hospital wards single sex, I was told that I was, ‘irrationally prejudiced against trans people.’ I’d rather spoil my ballot than vote for Labour.’

Nicola, a Labour veteran, is almost in tears when she tells me: ‘The Tories are not competent. They are pushing more people into poverty. But I can’t vote for a party that prioritises the interests – political, economic, social – of males over the reality of women’s experiences.’

While Sally, a trans woman, says the debate feels equally poisonous for the trans community. ‘Self ID is a long-term negative for trans people because the barrier to a protected characteristic is too low and Labour needs to recognise that,’ she says. ‘Look at things like Wi Spa in America [when a self-identifying trans woman with a history of sex offences exposed their penis in a room full of naked women and girls]. People are beginning to think we’re all perverts and someone needs to talk about this sensibly.’

I haven’t given any of them their real names because this is the most toxic row that Labour is involved in today. Women don’t feel just ignored but demonised. They are being pushed out of the party and, in the wider world, losing their jobs. A writer friend lost work solely because she followed a gender critical feminist on Twitter. Aside from a brave few, Labour MPs are terrified about speaking up, because they know trans rights activists will then demand they are sacked and the leadership will do nothing to stop the bullying. Even the trans people who speak up against the activism orthodoxy are labelled transphobes.

This row, fuelled by extremism, is hurting women and is also incredibly painful for the trans community. To write this chapter I have talked to many of them; they have never felt so demonised or alone even as the rights of trans people has never been on the political agenda more. As a Jewish woman I have some understanding of what it is like to find everyone has an opinion of who you are, what you should be offended by, to be at the centre of hatred and shouting even as no one asks what you think.

Some people I spoke to within the party said Labour should try and just not talk about the issue – it is, of course, one that the party has no influence over until it actually gets into power – and it is being stoked up by gleeful Tories pushing the culture war to make the party seem out of touch. But it is too late for that.

It’s appearing as a concern on the doorsteps now; another example – like the Palestinian flag-waving – of how ‘woke’ Labour has narrow concerns which are a world away from making the lives of ordinary British people better. After the Corbyn years, Labour, more than anything else, needs to show that it is much more than a flag waving student organisation which isn’t actually listening to the people it purports to represent.

Labour does need to help trans people. There are lots of ways they can do this and that could start now with the suggestion of a cross party group looking at how trans needs can be met in workplaces and schools, creating a best practice standard for recruitment and mentoring.

Reduce waiting times for operations, fast track adults with gender dysphoria, push for more specialised mental health help around trans issues so once someone has been diagnosed and counselled, there is a clinical pathway to, if they would like, hormones and surgery. Reform the GRA process so that it is less faceless and invasive.

Highlight the trans success stories – and distinguish trans from non-binary – which causes confusion.  Choose more trans spokes people and politicians, but at the same time don’t make their gender into a big issue. Labour should be celebrating trans people, not constantly and condescendingly telling them how hard life is for them.

Trans rights can be improved in plenty of ways without infringing on women’s rights and the first thing that needs to be discussed is how that can happen in a realistic manner. The party has to stop seeing this as – ironically enough – a binary issue where you are either pro trans rights or a bigot. Most women and men who stand in opposition to the radical trans activists do want the lives of trans people to be better – but they just don’t want it to impact on the lives and the safety of women.

The party needs to start by ending the pretence that something like self ID – as pledged by Keir Starmer for the party’s next manifesto – doesn’t come without potential dangers to women if there are not safeguards in place. That’s just Kafka-esque gaslighting from an organisation which might flaunt its equality agenda but which is yet to even have a female leader.

People who point out their fears – good left-wing women who have often dedicated years to the Labour party should not be labelled bigots, Nazis, haters, and witches for talking about the dangers that come with opening up safe spaces. No female MP should be afraid to express her beliefs. How can the party claim to be talking up for the oppressed when it fails to listen to women?

Outside of the party, this bullying behaviour, this silencing, means that women can no longer even talk about the words mother or woman – even they are being stolen from us. On medical literature we’ve become menstruators, ovulators, people with a cervix. We are told not to complain as this is inclusive language but that’s a lie; inclusive language wouldn’t exclude women or reduce us to body parts. Truly inclusive language would be: ‘women and menstruators’. It is worth noting that men are never referred to in this dehumanising language; an example of the every day sexism women still have to deal with.

How did we get to the point where the view of so many women, men – and even of trans people- are being ignored and demonised? Where telling people to shut up or burning books is deemed progressive?

Some activists see this as the big fight for equality of their generation. Spouting slogans as if they were a cult, they appear to believe that if they can just shut the witchy women up than everything will be peace and love, unicorns and rainbows. They are children.

Every trans person I spoke to pointed out the obvious unfairness of trans women in female sports and how demanding that it happens – even when it is potentially dangerous – only leads to more animosity and anger towards the trans community. Trans people should be able to play sport but not at the expense of women. This is obvious to everyone – particularly voters who don’t think about this issue that much – but seemingly not to trans activists.

Several of the trans people I spokes also insisted that trans women should not be taking up women’s officers’ roles in CLPs when they are there for a reason; because Labour is traditionally misogynistic against women.

Meanwhile, the women I spoke to asked again and again that Labour should listen to them. Women have been talking about our oppression for a long time and yet our fears and worries are still ignored. While none of us really imagine that misogyny can completely disappear, we do expect the leaders of a mainstream party to listen and put a halt to the bullying of women who say they are scared.

We are just a few years on from the #MeToo movement when many men were surprised to hear about the extent of sexism and abuse in the workplace for the first time. They said they had heard, they had listened, they would do better. Earlier this year there was the outpouring after the murder of Sarah Everard about the rapes women had endured and the fears they had at even walking down a street – once again men said they had heard, they had listened, they would do better. And that was followed by the Everyone’s Invited scandal detailing abuse against girls in and out of schools by boys, pumped up on porn; once again men said they had heard, they had listened and they would do better.

But when women talk about the safeguards they would like because of their fears, they are shut down and call transphobes. The wider electorate – 51 per cent of whom are women – see how unedifying this is when it comes under a Labour banner.

Women know men more than men do. We know how many predatory men there are out there; most of us spent our younger years avoiding touching, pushing, grabbing, groping male hands.

It is not most trans women we are afraid of but male predators disguising themselves as trans women to get easy access to vulnerable women. The easier it is for people to identify as women, the more predators will take the opportunity because that’s how criminals work. This is an incredibly important distinction and one that gets completely lost in the row because many men can’t understand why a man would go to the effort of saying they were a woman just to get access to women. But women can.

The case of Karen White, is one such example. White had not undergone any surgery and was legally a male but self-identified as a woman. In 2018, while on remand for grievous bodily harm, multiple rapes and sexual offences, White was placed in a female prison and promptly sexually assaulted two inmates over a three-month period.

In July a case at the High Court, brought by a woman prisoner who said she had been sexually assaulted by a trans prisoner, concluded for the first time in black and white, that some trans gender prisoners did present a risk to women. It emerged that of 163 trans gender prisoners in 2019, half of them – 81 – were sex offenders. Yet trans activists dare to call women bigots for saying that men will identify as female for nefarious reasons. This is why Labour has to stop pretending there isn’t potential danger here and promise safeguards.

The case’s judge Lord Justice Holroyde, said: ‘The unconditional introduction of a transgender woman into the general population of a women’s prison carries a statistically greater risk of sexual assault upon non-transgender prisoners than would be the case if a non-transgender woman were introduced.’

He also acknowledged that many vulnerable women may be scared of a trans woman prisoner, even if they offered no risk; and that did not make them transphobic. ‘I readily accept that some and perhaps many women prisoners may suffer fear and acute anxiety if required to share prison accommodation and facilities with a transgender woman who has male genitalia and that their fear and anxiety may be increased if that transgender woman has been convicted of sexual or violent offences against women.’

The same goes for single sex wards in hospitals and refuges which are now having funding taken away because they are refusing trans women. If you have been violently attacked or sexually assaulted by a man, you may still be frightened of someone with a male body however much people tell you that you just need to get over it. That situation isn’t fair either for the women or the trans women who are placed in a difficult situation.

Women and trans people (trans men as well as women) need refuges but refuges also need to have safe spaces for just women, inner sanctums, perhaps. The most vulnerable women are statistically likely to be working class and already victims of sexual and other violence. Shouldn’t Labour, both morally and because it represents the party’s electorate, automatically be speaking up for them? Why is the party ignoring them?

Women are potentially being doubly abused here. And that’s not the only way. If a woman comes from a strict religious (and therefore patriarchal) background, she will have been brought up believing she must not touch a man who isn’t a relation and needs to look modest at all times in front of male strangers otherwise she brings shame on herself and her family. For women like this, their only recourse may be to totally withdraw from any public spaces.  What if she needs to go to hospital and wards aren’t single sex? How do you weigh up her needs with that of a trans woman who may present as a man, however they identify?

Similarly, the party needs to explore the thinking that is leading record numbers of girls into thinking life would be better off if they were boys because it is nuanced and complicated. In 1989 the newly opened Tavistock clinic in London had just two referrals – both boys. Today there were more than 2000 children wanting to change gender, and almost two thirds of them were teenage girls.  In our highly sexualised and confusing internet world, it is more important than ever that young people have accurate diagnosis before undergoing hormone therapy.

This is a serious issue made up of complex strands which needs to go beyond sloganizing and hatred. It is a debate going on around the world, one that is only getting angrier and that is why Labour could and should be taking leadership on it, taking on board both the wants and needs of the trans community and those of women. There are ways of doing this.

It is time to listen to the sensible voices on all sides and come up with a humane solution that works: one that recognises trans people and their challenges and also that women need to feel safe and secure. It is time to stop being dominated by extremists and show that Labour is a party which is actually capable of leading on even the most difficult of issues.

Nicole Lampert is a freelance journalist who writes about antisemitism and feminism as well as the arts. She is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement

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14 Responses to “Labour is losing women. It could cost the party the next election. It doesn’t have to be this way”

  1. Brian Devlin says:

    At last, a sensible call for this issue to be debated seriously. We must get away from the ridiculous virtue signalling and displays of “wokeness” that is engulfing many of the top team.
    The lack of unambivalent support for Rosie Duffield from the shadow cabinet and others this week is shameful and telling. It’s cowardice writ large.
    And it’s true, women, some long time Labour activists are deserting our party over this issue. The leadership have got to be clear on the direction of travel on this. The fence-sitting period has come and gone.

  2. Jenny Potters says:

    A wonderful, thoughtful and balanced piece. Thank you!

  3. A.J. says:

    I would suggest that someone hosts a slideshow, highlighting Labour women from Margaret Bondfield to Dawn Foster. About a dozen examples should suffice, including Barbara Castle – Labour’s Norma Desmond. Perhaps Eddie Izzard could be on hand to clear up any confusion.
    ‘Ang’ may not have set the world on fire at PMQ but she looked marvellous.
    And this is Labour ‘moving foward?’ With its eye on the next General Election, whenever it comes? Starmer hasn’t even got ‘The Guardian’ on board – just a lot of contradictory waffle from Jones, Toynbee, Mandelson etc. etc.
    First anti-Jewishiness. Then taking the knee. Now this.
    Should sell like hot cakes on the new estates of the ‘Red Wall’ north – which have often replaced the old heavy industrial areas together with retail outlets and all the delights/horrors they offer the mass, don’t-much-give-a-toss voting public.

  4. A.J. says:

    Sorry, but I struggled to get to the end of it. Maybe I needed another cup of coffee. Looking forward to the next year or so, when trans collides head-on with the Taliban. What a wonderful place England has become.
    I accidentally bumped into a couple of these ‘ladies’ whilst out and about the other day. We had a lovely fifteen minutes talking about food and drink – beer, in fact. It’s also just dawned on me that I would rather spend an evening in the pub with a witty homosexual of either gender than some dull straight in their Matalan clobber, chuntering about football and barbecues.
    Time Rosie Duffield got a bit of decent, strong support. Not much point in looking to Starmer, though, is there? He was ‘woke’ before the word gained common currency. Yet there was a time when Labour did not provide a ‘safe space’ (as it were) for gays. Remember that infamous by-election?
    Funny old world.

  5. Anne says:

    This subject seems to be dominating certain agenda’s – the issue with Rosie Duffield has been on national news, and the word ‘woke’ is branded about. Although important these issues should not dominate Labour and to be quite honest it s understandable to be sitting on the fence – these are complex issues and sometimes no clear answers. For example should children be given medication/surgery to change gender without parental consent. There is an interesting case at present where a child went down this road but now regrets this decision.
    Sport is another area. Most sports people put in a lot of time, effort and money to improve – spending time in the gym. These margins can be very small. Should a trans lady be allowed to compete on the same level? Most trans ladies will have already built up muscle giving them a clear advantage. Different gender categories are there for a reason. Not sure what the sporting rules are about this but Martina Navratilova has spoken about it.

  6. Tafia says:

    Perhaps they should follow mainstream orthodoxy then – your sex and gender is what you were born with unril you physically transition and have completed the operations.

    If you have a ‘bloke and tackle’ you are a man – even if you have a boyfriend, wear a skirt, lipstick and stilletos and you will use male changing rooms, male toilets etc etc etc. And vice versa for women. And personal facilities – toilets, changing rooms etc etc must reflect that. And you are not disabled so stay out of their facilities as well. The way Centre Parcs does it is acceptable – where the changing cubicles are all in one big room with floor to ceiling walls, physically patrolled by staff members all the time and covered by CCTV, but the toilet facilities are seperated.

    I nearly wet myself laughing when one of the schools embroiled in this unisex toilets bollocks only applies it to the pupils – the teachers still have seperate facilities because the teachers unions threatened to take action. It’s also going doewn like a bucket of cold sick in schools where there is orthodox muslim, jewish children and they are keeping their children off school because of it and relocating them to other schools. (does trying to force orthodox jewish and muslim children to share facilities count as anti-semitism & islamophobia I wonder).

    I have two daughters – one a renal consultant in the NHS (she can tell you nightmares about wastage), and one in the shadow finaance industry in Europe. Raised in a terraced house in the deepest darkest north and educated at the local high school. They are both in their 40’s now and still speak with a broad regional accent despite their occupations – and they are vehemently opposed to this, as is their mother – a retired NHS nurse (who can also tell you nightmares about profligate waste and gross inefficiency in the NHS.) And when they were younger, if I’d seen a man – even one in womens clothing, going into toilets or open changing rooms where they were, I’d have personally completed his transition for him, wig and skirt or not.

    This is going to be a major major issue at the next General Election – and anybody seen to be lecturing ‘that it knows best’ (a bad habit Labour have) will be ritually viscerated and deservedly so. And don’t be thinking younger voters will back it – in my experience they are just as opposed as us wrinklies.

  7. A.J. says:

    Let the Labour Party wrestle with its conscience, by all means. But let it not be surprised when it keeps on doing badly in elections, at whatever level.

  8. A.J. says:

    Cathy Newman indulges in fantasies that ‘Ang’ might be the very person to send BoJo packing. Odd world Cathy seems to inhabit.
    Bridget Phillipson ought to be given a far higher profile, She is a leader in waiting.

  9. Anne says:

    Sorry Nicole to move off subject a little but there has been some very disturbing comments made on this Uncut site – it is time some ‘codes of conduct’ was put in place regarding use of bad language/abuse/harassment and trolling. This behaviour is not acceptable in the work place it should be allowed on this site or any site. Uncut should take more responsibility in this matter – by publishing these comments Uncut is endorsing them. There should be a proper complaints procedure and these comments filtered out. Either sort it out or shut down.

  10. A.J. says:

    Yet more loose talk in the newspapers – from one or two people who ought to know better – about ‘Ang’ being the authentic, gritty, northern voice of the working classes: left school at the age of two to work down’t pit, tha knows, taking her bread and lard butties and flask of cold tea with her. Sienna was the boss’s daughter, but they became bosom buddies, tossing off pints of brown ale down the welfare and then going for chips and gravy.

  11. A.J. says:

    Perhaps Anne should be brave and name names.

    My wife and I were also brought up in dismal, draughty houses. My wife’s parents’ house lacked a bathroom. This was in the 1970s. When she got to Warwick University (where she obtained First Class Honours before moving onto her Social Work qualification then an MA) her middle-class trendy leftie friends couldn’t believe their ears. My own family, on my father’s side, were Derbyshire/Notts miners.
    My wife feels absolutely the same as Tafia. She had a breast removed in 2019, her hair went during chemo and depression set in. Yet she coped with work and family. That’s what being a woman is all about and Starmer fails to grasp it just as Nicola Sturgeon does.
    Starmer should give way to a woman. And soon.

  12. Anne says:

    These people know who they are. They are very dangerous people. Either filter out the Trolls with their made up stories and abusive comments or shut down. Most, I suspect are Tory Trolls pretending to be Labour Party members. I am a Labour Party member and I want a Labour government. Labour Uncut – stop posting their comments – don’t give them any space.

  13. Tafia. (Or posiibly Sonia. Or Bert. Or Fido the Dog.) says:

    In fact Anne, 2003 is the oldest of my posts I can find (funnily when I was still a member of the Labour Party) on this sites predecessor, LabourHome, run by Alex-somone-or-other (John P Reid will remember his surname possibly). Excellent blog it was as well. Commenting was live, much like the Gurdian’s Comment Is Free (which is also regulalrly sworn on with four letter words), and totally uncensored.

    And the name Tafia was ‘given’ to me by someone on here – possibly the columnist Rob Marchant I think, when he refered to me being a part of it. So I changed my posting name to Tafia in celebration. But you’d have to have been posting hre for a few years to know that and not be some johnny-come-lately.

    By the way, how do we know your name is Anne? How do we know that really you arent a 25 stone retired bus driver called Reg Bloggs from Essex? How do you know John P Reid is actually called that? And A.J.’s initialls ar actually A.J.?

    Oh, and it is not trolling or inflammatory when you pull someone up for putting facually incorrect rubbish in a post and trying to farcically pass it of as true. Which you have a regular habit of doing.

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